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Santa Cruz County: Vacation Rentals Ordinance

Located along California’s Central Coast, approximately 70 miles south of San Jose, Santa Cruz County enjoys a $1.1 billion annual tourism industry. Its beautiful beaches, stunning trails, and family activities bring visitors from all around the globe. As a result, more homeowners are interested in turning their properties into vacation rentals! Before venturing down this path, however, it is essential for people to understand what is permitted regarding vacation rentals in Santa Cruz County.

Santa Cruz Vacation Rental Ordinance

Santa Cruz County regulates short-term rentals under its vacation rental ordinance. This ordinance, specifically section 13.10.964, is designed “to establish regulations applicable to dwellings that are rented as vacation rentals for periods of not more than 30 days at a time. These regulations are in addition to all other provisions of this title.” This ordinance does not apply to Pajaro Dunes, where an existing development permit governs vacation rentals.

What is considered a vacation rental in Santa Cruz County?

A vacation rental, also known as “short-term rental” or a property intended for “transient rental use,” is defined as an entire home or a portion of a home that guests can rent for a maximum of 30 days. In Santa Cruz County, vacation rentals include single-family houses, multi-family dwelling units (e.g., duplexes and triplexes), condominiums, and townhouses. Note that a vacation rental is different from a hosted rental or a bed and breakfast.

A hosted rental “is a short-term rental (fewer than 30 days) of one or two bedrooms in a home, where the property owner stays on-site during the rental. A hosted rental is different from a ‘vacation rental,’ which is a short-term rental of an entire house.”

A bed and breakfast is “a dwelling in which not more than five bedrooms are available for short-term rental not to exceed 30 days.” Bed and breakfast properties are currently permitted in the following residential districts: Residential Agricultural (RA), Rural Residential (RR), Single Family Residential (R-1), and Residential Multifamily (RM). However, they are not permitted in the Beach Residential (RB) district. A property has to meet specific standards and requirements before it can be considered a bed and breakfast.

What else does not qualify as a vacation rental?

According to Santa Cruz County Code, “Habitable accessory structures, non-habitable accessory structures, accessory dwelling units (ADUs) constructed under the provisions of SCCC 13.10.681, 13.20.107, or 13.20.108, and legally restricted affordable housing units shall not be used as vacation rentals.” In other words, many auxiliary structures and affordable housing units are off-limits as vacation rentals.

Can I apply for a vacation rental permit in Santa Cruz County?

Vacation rentals are permitted “in all zone districts that allow residential use with no requirement for any other use, except that any vacation rental meeting the requirements of subsections (C)(2) and (D)(1) of this section may be permitted in any zone district.” The following apply:

  • One vacation rental is permitted per parcel.
  • Residences that are subject to affordable housing covenants or are income-restricted for affordable housing purposes are not eligible for a permit.
  • If a property shares a wall with another residential unit (such as a condo), permission from the neighbor is required.

However, the following designated areas are currently at capacity and are accepting applications for the wait list only!

  • Live Oak Designated Area (LODA)
  • Seacliff/Aptos/La Selva Beach Designated Area (SALSDA)
  • Davenport/Swanton Designated Area (DASDA)

LODA is capped at 262 vacation rental permits; SALSDA is capped at 241; and DASDA is capped at three.

In addition, “no new vacation rental shall be approved if parcels with permitted vacation rentals or permitted hosted rentals on the same block total 20 percent or more of the total parcels on that block that allow residential use.”

Exceptions apply to specific streets and areas that are not limited by caps or block limits: “Pot Belly Beach Road; Las Olas Drive; those residentially zoned parcels in the Rio Del Mar flats consisting of parcels fronting on Stephen Road, Marina Avenue, and Venetian Road between its intersection with the Esplanade and Aptos Beach Drive to its intersection with Lake Court and Stephen Road; those parcels fronting on or gaining access from Cliff Court or fronting on or gaining access from Rio Del Mar Boulevard between its intersection with Aptos Beach Drive and Beach Drive to its intersection with Kingsbury Drive, Cliff Drive, and Beach Villa Lane; Beach Drive; and Via Gaviot.”

As of November 16, 2021, the designated areas had the following number of parties on the waitlist:

  • LODA: 41
  • SALSDA: 11
  • DASDA: 0
  • Non-designated area hosted: 2

Click here for the most up-to-date wait list.

Again, these guidelines do not apply to Pajaro Dunes, where an existing development permit governs vacation rentals


How do I obtain a vacation rental permit in Santa Cruz County?

Every vacation rental must have a permit, and obtaining one can be done through the county. Interested parties must submit both a vacation rental permit application and transient occupancy tax registration, as well as an application fee. They must also submit plot plans and floor plans, which should be drawn to scale.

All permit application submissions are being accepted and processed remotely this year via the department’s online ePlan portal.

The same application can be used for rental renewals.

An individual applying for a new vacation rental of three or fewer bedrooms can forgo a public hearing and work directly with the Planning Director or designee. Rental applications for four bedrooms or more must have a public hearing.

How do I obtain a vacation rental permit for an area at capacity?

The county is accepting applications from those wishing to be added to the waitlist for one of the designated areas currently at capacity.

“Permits will be issued on a first-applied, first-issued system, with evaluation of permit availability occurring on a bi-annual basis (June 1 and December 1). Unfortunately, waiting isn’t free; there is a $145.00 annual wait list fee that applicants must pay to maintain a spot on the list. To submit a wait list request, [applicants must] fill out the Wait List Request Form.”

What should I expect once I’m approved?

If approved, the following items are permitted or required on the rental property:

  • All vacation rentals must designate a local property manager, who is located within 30 miles of the unit. The local property manager shall be available 24 hours a day to respond to tenant and neighborhood questions or concerns. A property owner who lives within 30 miles of the vacation rental may designate themselves as the local property manager.
  • All vacation rentals shall have a sign identifying the structure as a permitted vacation rental and listing the 24-hour local property manager responsible for responding to complaints and providing general information, which shall be placed no more than 20 feet back from the nearest street. For all rentals, the sign must also display the beginning and end dates of the five-year vacation rental permit.
  • Vacation rental rules shall be posted inside the vacation rental in a location readily visible to all guests.
  • All residential vacation rentals shall comply with the county standards and a copy SCCC 8.30 (Noise ordinance) shall be posted inside the vacation rental in a location readily visible to all guests.

Furthermore, rental properties must follow these operational guidelines:

  • A maximum of two guests per legal bedroom, plus two additional guests (children under eight years old are not counted). Additional visitors are permitted between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. for celebrations and gatherings.
  • Adequate parking must be provided: one on-site space for one- and two-bedroom units, and a minimum of two on-site spaces for three- or more bedroom units. Guests are allowed to park one additional vehicle off-site. Restrictions apply.
  • Trash must be kept in covered containers only.
  • Visitors must adhere to noise and behavior restrictions per the county.

All permits remain valid for five years, so long as the vacation rental was operating for three out of the five years. Renewals can be requested every five years.

If at any point the property owner or tenant is in violation of County Code, the permit may be revoked.

Can I market my vacation rental online?

Yes! But all advertising must follow county guidelines:

“All advertising … shall include the vacation rental permit number in the first two lines of the advertisement text, and where photos are included, a photo containing the permit number shall be included, as well as a photo of the required signage that includes the 24-hour contact information and vacation rental identification.”

Check Out Current Vacation Rentals in the County

Anyone planning to visit Santa Cruz County or interested in learning where current vacation rentals exist can check out the County map for up-to-date information.

For further questions regarding vacation rentals in Santa Cruz County, contact the Planning Counter via phone at (831) 454-2130.

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